I recently competed in a writing contest. We were given the first and last line and had to fill in a 1000 word story within 24 hours. This is what I came up with:
They laid the train tracks back to front and this caused a great deal of confusion – you’d think you were on the train to New York and arrived in Kinshasa, or to Shanghai and found yourself lost in Istanbul. But the journey was supposed to be half the fun, she thought, looking around at her fellow passengers. More like half the terror.
Elenora rested her head against the seat and closed her eyes, coaxing her mind to relax, to allow her some peace, to let the sound of the rain calm her. Focusing her energy on breathing, she slowly brought her heart rate to something normal. But a sudden jolt of the carriage made her cringe. Her slender fingers gripped the plastic arms of her seat, her knuckles turning white with pressure.
Around her the carriage on the small train held less than a dozen others. Canadian trains were more of a relic now. Those who still travelled them either enjoyed the notion of being on a train or found the cheaper fair between two fairly close locations appealing.
And then there are people like me. People who could, if they lost control, be easily kicked off in the middle of the journey without too much disruption. There were no stations every so many kilometres in the air. An emergency landing would inconvenience hundreds of people and make headlines. Best not to let that happen.
Why don’t you want anyone to know about me? The voice in the darkness whispered. Her body tensed. Her arms shook from the force of her muscles straining against the fear. Please, no, please. . . she begged her rational self. Keep the madness at bay. I’m not crazy! The voice screamed. Oh, but you are.
The insanity that had started so slowly, started as nothing more than a phrase she thought she heard, a passing remark that caused her to ask “what?” to the people around her, had taken on a true form over the past few months. By now it had developed into a demon lurking inside her mind.
Without warning her arm twitched and she gasped. How much longer until she arrived? Not long enough! The menacing laughter followed. She bitterly hated the manic laughter. It mocked her efforts at sanity, mocked her attempts to fight the demon, and mocked her hope that there would ever be a time when she could feel normal again.
She looked around at her fellow passengers. Though they were scattered throughout the seats and facing front, she couldn’t help but feel exposed in her dark jeans and navy shirt. The dark colours were chosen in the hope of blending in, and her brown hair was pulled into a lose bun at the nape of her neck for the same reason. But despite these efforts, she was certain everyone had looked at her with questions in their eyes. You can’t mute the madness, the voice taunted.
Leave me alone, she pleaded. With shaking fingers she turned her watch to see it was so close to the time of arrival. If anything happens to these people… she agonised, feeling a fresh wave of guilt for leaving it this late to do something about the madness. She had known it so well; studied the signs, been tested on them, and even diagnosed others with what was eating away at her saneness. But her vanity had kept her from accepting the truth. What was the saying? “Pride cometh before the fall.”
Exhausted, Elenora lowered the tray table and rested her head in her hands. With eyes closed, she felt a loud bang, as though someone had been thrown against a wall. Her head titled to the side from the force. Franticly she opened her eyes, searching for signs of disaster. Her rational mind told her there was nothing wrong with the train, but then she felt the brutal clash again, this time with more force.
No, it’s not the train, she realised with horror. “God no!” She cried, aware that the demon was finally breaking free. She had given it too much time, allowed it to fester, and now, when she was so close to her friend and colleague waiting for her at the Halifax train station to take her directly to the Abbie Lane psychiatric facility, it was too late.
An overwhelming sadness came over her and she moaned, catching the attention of the other passengers. As the moan transformed into a cruel laugh, people started to shift from their seats to the front of the cab.
“Ma’am, are you all right?” Someone was coming towards her. A large woman with a serious face. “I’m a nurse, I can help . . .”
She’s not here to help. She’ll hurt you. Hurt you, hurt you. Don’t let her. Hurt her! “I can’t let you hurt me!” The voice screamed. Elenora’s body flung at the woman, jumping on top of her and scratching at her face, but her mind took no part in the attack. She didn’t acknowledge the panic cries of the others, or the screech of the brakes as the train arrived at its destination. Too obsessed with the task of ensuring this woman never hurt her, Elenora’s body struggled against the other passengers who tried to aid the helpful nurse by tearing the assailant off her. She fought them with the fear of a trapped animal and howled like a wounded one.
In the chaos, a familiar voice shouted her name, a familiar face floated before her eyes, but she only gnashed her teeth at his attempts to have her recognize him. And then a prick in her shoulder.
Slowly the demon coiled into a dormant darkness. As Elenora retreated into unconsciousness, she gave into a profound despair that she may never be herself again. Before closing her eyes against the turmoil, she looked out the train window. Rain dripping from the rusty gutters made a curtain between the platform and the tracks.